Sunday, July 9, 2017

The food expiration date conspiracy

And now, a little about the ubiquitous food expiration system:

Have you noticed that almost everything has a "sell-by" date now?  Think about it... this used to only apply to perishable foods, like meat, dairy, eggs, etc.  Which makes perfect sense... I don't want to buy month old eggs or meat that is about to turn.  However, do I really care whether or not my Spam, Cheetos,Twinkies, sodas, etc. are at their"peak of freshness?" Not when they'll taste the same months, sometimes even years, later.

The sell-by date system has become a scam.  If you print that a product has to be sold by a certain date, it is illegal to sell it in most supermarkets after that date (at least where I live.)  Which means that they have to take it off the shelves, and put new product in.  It also means that the unwary consumer believes that the products that he/she purchased has to be used by that date, or else it will not be fit for consumption. So it's a double-whammy:  the store won't sell the product, and the consumer in possession of the product won't eat it.  Which just results in more sales for the food producer, and more food waste overall.

If you want to read some articles about how much food we waste because of the expiration system, I recommend this onethis onethis one and especially this one. The statistics are shocking.

Here is a chart I saw at a preschool explaining how to read expiration dates and what they really mean:

The trick here is to take a look at the specific words used with the date. 

"Expires" (exp) and "use by" are the only true expiration dates. The rest either indicate when the food was manufactured (plain date stamp), or when the food will be the freshest. "Sell by" dates are usually not even meant for the consumer at all, but are there so that grocers know when the look, texture, and taste of the food can no longer be guaranteed. But this food is still safe to eat.

There are some good articles that explain this in better detail herehere, and here.

The point I'm trying to make, which I talked about in this blog post, is that the wasting of food is a violation of Pagan ethics. The food we enjoy and need in order to live is a gift to us from Mother Earth (or the Goddess, or the Universe, etc.) and should not be taken for granted. It certainly should not be needlessly thrown away. Which is exactly what a lot of us are doing, because we simply don't know any better.

Well, now you know, and hopefully you won't be deceived by those misleading expiration dates any more!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Are you SURE that food is bad?

As a Pagan/Wiccan, I don't subscribe to the idea of sin. "Sin" is a religious concept that usually only comes into play in the Abrahamic faiths - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

But because I practice an Earth-centered religion, one of the worst transgressions I can think of that people commit every day - a "sin," if you will, is the wasting of food.
Mother Earth gives us an abundance of food - more than enough to feed the entire planet, despite what we are told on the news (but that is a political and economic discussion - read more about it here, and here, and here.)

I'm sure like me, you also grew up with parents that urged you to clean your plate because "There are people going hungry in the world that would be glad to eat it." And whether it was broccoli, lima beans, tomatoes (my personal dislike) or whatever else - at some point, like me, you probably thought, " Oh yeah? well, they can HAVE it!"

Now, as an older and wiser adult, and one who understands the importance of not squandering Mother Earth's gifts to us, I realize that the wasting of food is one of the reasons that there are people in the world with not enough to eat. And I also came to realize that people don't always waste food out of carelessness, but because they believe it has gone bad, when it is in fact still good, if you know what to do with it. 

So, with that said, here are some tips and tricks to salvage so-called "food gone bad," as well as a few preventative measures to extend the shelf life of perishable foods:


These are the inspiration for this post. I found some green potatoes in my cupboard the other day and was wondering if they were OK to eat, because I was told that they can be poisonous. Apparently, that only applies if the potato is green all the way through. In almost all cases, you can simply take off the "eyes" that are beginning to grow and peel off the skin and the green layer underneath, and the potatoes are safe to eat. In some cases, these potatoes will taste bitter after being cooked, but that just makes them inedible, not dangerous. The best way to avoid potatoes turning green is to keep them in a dark and cool place - the refrigerator, if possible. Potatoes that are exposed to light and heat will try to grow, which causes the "eyes" and green color, because this is the potato sending out roots and forming chlorophyll. So go ahead and peel it away, it's only bad if you were planning on making, say, baked potatoes, and eating the skin. Guess you'll have to make mashed ones instead! 


Did you know that eggs that are past their sell date are still good for weeks afterward as long as they have been refrigerated? If you want to know if an egg has gone bad, try this: get a large, deep, bowl of water. Put the eggs in it. If the egg sinks to the bottom, it's still fresh. If the egg stands up on one end but doesn't float, it's a bit older and is still good but should probably be cooked soon. If the egg floats, it has gone bad and should NOT be eaten - throw it away immediately.


Everyone knows when fruit is good or bad, right? Not necessarily. I have successfully cut brown or soft spots or even mold off of fruit and still eaten it, and it tasted fine and didn't give me any digestive problems. You will have to remove a good portion of the area around whatever you are cutting off, though. If the rest of the fruit is mushy, smells weird, or looks brown or discolored inside, then you should throw it away. This also only works with whole fruit - cut fruit that has mold or discolorations must all be tossed. Also get rid of cut fruit that has a "tingly" feeling on the tongue, as this means it has started to ferment! Some fruit you can save when it starts to turn by putting it in the freezer. The easiest way to freeze fruit is to cut it into pieces and put it into plastic bags with all of the air removed. Unfortunately, the freezing process usually ruins the texture of the fruit, but you can still use it for smoothies, pies, jam, pudding, preserves, bread/muffins, sangria, sorbet, etc. Some fruits, like grapes and strawberries, are great summer treats to eat frozen!


This includes yogurt, sour cream, and fermented foods, like kim chee, sauerkraut, and pickles. These are usually good way past their sell-by date. I've eaten yogurt that was "two months expired," based on what the container said. To determine if it is safe to eat, I've gone by three things:  smell, color, and consistency. I usually go by smell first:  it's pretty easy to determine if something has gone bad by it's odor, so go with that first. Next, notice if there are unusual colors that can't be explained, such as yellow, beige, or green in yogurt, or dark masses and unusually bright spots in fermented vegetables. Lastly, if you eat such foods on a regular basis, you will be familiar with consistency. Otherwise thick yogurt or cottage cheese should not be runny. Fermented vegetables that should be crisp but are soggy or wilted are a red flag. And always, always, ALWAYS get rid of anything that has bubbles in it that were not there before! (Fermented foods usually have some kind of bubbling action going on, but if this increases or is not present in the beginning but it is later, it means that the food is basically rotting.)


Even if this grows mold, it is still edible. Simply cut away the outside layers of the cheese and it should still be good underneath. Think about it... cheese is already "moldy milk," really. This is evidenced by softer cheese, like Brie, Camembert, and Bleu Cheese (which get's it name from the "blue" mold in it!) However, if the cheese didn't already come moldy like the ones listed above, use caution. Soft or gooey cheese without mold, like cottage cheese, cream cheese, or ricotta, should always be thrown away if it starts to mold. But a block of cheddar, monterey jack, asiago, parmesan, or other hard cheese is fine once you cut the mold off. In these cases, I always use my nose.  I know what a good block of cheddar or monterey jack smells like. If after you cut off the outsides and it still smells like mold, toss it. Also, if you do cut mold off of a block of cheese, BE SURE to put it into a different bag or storage container, otherwise it will just get moldy again from the mold left over in the packaging.


This one seems tricky, but it doesn't have to be. Unlike cheese, one slice of moldy bread will ruin the whole loaf. (The psychoactive ergot fungus, which is basically rye mold, is one possible cause of the Salem witch hysteria!) So if you find a piece of moldy bread, don't assume that you can get rid of that one slice and the rest will be OK - because it won't. However, you can avoid ever having to worry about this by always keeping your sliced bread in the freezer. I know, this sounds weird, but the same reason you can't use that piece of moldy bread is the same reason that you should freeze bread until you use it.  Bread is VERY porous and airy, and things like mold spores travel fast through it. However, because it is so porous, bread thaws out incredibly fast and can be used almost immediately. And to think I used to scoff at my grandma keeping bread in the freezer!


Rotting lettuce is really gross. It looks and smells funky, and has a horrible slimy and gelatinous texture that clings to everything. But... believe it or not, some lettuce that is starting to go bad like this is still salvageable. If it is a whole head, try removing the outer layers and see if it is good underneath. Some lettuce, like iceberg, will go bad near the stem but the leaves will stay intact. So try cutting off the stem, and then peel apart the layers to see if there are any that can be saved. And if it is a package of cut lettuce that has just started to turn (meaning it looks like there are only a few bad leaves here and there) you can save it as well. Using a colander or a salad spinner, remove the rotting lettuce pieces from the package and put those in a garbage pile. Put the good pieces in the colander or spinner. When you are done sorting them, thoroughly rinse the good pieces and all the leftover slimy residue will wash away. Then dry (or spin) the leaves, and you're good to go!

What are your tricks and secrets to salvaging and saving food? I'd love to hear about them!

 Also, look for my upcoming post on "sell-by dates" and other food guidelines. You'll be surprised to learn what's really going with these!